Nuffield Trust response to NAO report on NHS Test and Trace

Billy Palmer responds to the NAO report on NHS Test and Trace.

Press release

Published: 11/12/2020

Nuffield Trust Senior Fellow Dr Billy Palmer said:

"It is good to see scrutiny of NHS Test and Trace. This programme has a pivotal role to play in controlling Covid-19 and our calculations suggest it will cost the equivalent of £950 per household this year. [2] Yet the latest data suggest that despite the hard work of its staff, less than one in three [3]of recent close contacts are even asked to self-isolate, well below the level the scientific advisory group thinks is necessary to help suppress the virus. It is frustratingly unclear how many of those contacted actually comply. 

"As the report points out, we need to ask questions about NHS T&T's unusual organisational relationships and unclear accountability. The centralised nature of the programme and the limited support and incentives for people to isolate may also be significant problems.

"We desperately need a fully functioning test and trace system - we know that worse performance seems at least to be associated with areas where there are higher cases[4]. This report strengthens the case that we must start by taking a hard look at performance and cost-effectiveness before any third wave hits."

Notes to editors

1. The NAO interim report The government’s approach to test and trace in England will be published on Friday December 11th. 

2. Our calculation that NHS Test and Trace will cost around £950 per household this financial year is based on figures from the recent Spending Round, and was published in this article.

3. Data on Test and Trace performance is available here.

4. Our analysis of Test and Trace performance against the tiers of infection control local areas go into can be seen on our website here. It should be noted that drawing a causal relationship is very difficult.

5. The Nuffield Trust is an independent health think tank. We aim to improve the quality of health care in the UK by providing evidence-based research and policy analysis and informing and generating debate.